Interview with Chong Chu, Hospitality Enthusiast
- 6 min read
We have opened three interrelated concepts within De Hallen Amsterdam. Brasserie Halte 3, opened first in August 2014. It is an all-day concept, starting with breakfast, which flows over into lunch, dinner and it is a place to go for drinks. Our menu has something for everyone, especially for local residents. The second concept, Meat West, only opens for dinner at 18:00. It focuses on meat and wine and is more ‘fine-dining’. This second concept opened in September 2014. The third and largest concept, the Foodhallen, with 1,100m2, opened in October 2014. The Foodhallen encompasses 21 food concepts where we provide the space and all the facilities, like chairs and tables. We own the 5 bars inside. The Foodhallen are a meeting place for friends to catch up and have a drink with a snack. You can come here with a group of people and everyone can eat something completely different.
In the first three months there was no time to stand still and reflect. There was a huge buzz around the Foodhallen, so everyone wanted to come and see what it was all about: every night hundreds of people turned up, 7 nights a week, it was insane. And when there’s a buzz, you have to deliver and live up to everyone’s expectations.
After about 5 months, things started to calm down. Operations were running smoothly, everyone knew what to do. Only then did we have time to stand still, take a look around and realise: wow this is what we created. What we’ve done is crazy, in three months opening three huge concepts, going from 0 staff to 160 employees, it was a lot to handle. Operations, staff, suppliers, other partners, everybody wanted something from us. Working 7 days a week, 12 hours per day, it was a crazy roller coaster ride. Now I can even sometimes take a day off. Which I really need sometimes, to be away from it all, to clear my mind and to come back with a fresh, clean mind-set and new ideas.
Not everything is perfect; we are still learning. We just opened, we haven’t even finished a full year. We especially want to learn from our own mistakes: what did we do wrong, what could have been better? We listen closely to complaints, from “there are too few seats” to “it’s too hot inside” and “the quality of the air inside is not good”. These are all points we are working on, to keep improving all the time. You have to keep developing to stay new and interesting for people to keep coming back.
After graduating I went to Shanghai to work there, came back, and started a small company importing bonsai trees; I did that for a year, still wondering what to do with my life. Afterwards I opened a few Chinese and Japanese restaurants in Rotterdam and then this opportunity came along. Two of my friends and current partners went to Madrid and got inspired by Mercado de San Miguel; they came back and we talked about it, thinking: this is really what is missing in Amsterdam.
We might open similar places like the Foodhallen in other cities, adjusted to that particular city and the people from that city, maybe also abroad.
My parents always owned restaurants so as a kid I grew up in restaurants, always walking around in kitchens and behind the bar - I didn’t know anything else. First I didn’t want to go into the restaurant business myself, complaining about the long hours and the lack of free time, but when I went with a friend to an open day at Hotelschool The Hague, I knew: this is it, this is what I want! It’s in my blood. I learned a lot at Hotelschool The Hague, especially management skills: how to be a good manager and how to approach your staff and how to inspire them to believe in what you believe.
I have a close group of friends that I know from Hotelschool The Hague, who I still meet with every week. We were friends from day 1 at the Skotel, now 13/14 years ago. I just give them a call or send them a text saying: shall we have dinner tonight? And they will all be there! To me that is so special. And a lot of those friends from the Hotelschool now have opened bars and restaurants in Amsterdam. They are starting companies, doing something. It is great to see each other grow, also getting girlfriends, wives, and children. We’ve been to each other’s weddings. And it’s funny to see: alumni from Hotelschool The Hague are taking over Amsterdam. The other day there was an article in the newspaper: where can you eat the best steak or best burger in Amsterdam? It was a top 5, and I was on the list, Riad Farhat was on the list, Matan Shabraque was on the list, all alumni. So of course we posted it on Facebook, tagging each other: how funny is this? We are all from the same school, all friends, and we all opened places in Amsterdam. And we all inspire and motivate each other, and help each other. It was Riad who told me to come to Amsterdam; I didn’t believe him at first - now I know he was right!